Equipment, materials, and labor make up the cost of construction. There is only one that you, as a construction manager, can have any positive impact on: the productivity of your labor force. Less expensive equipment and materials might help in the short term but can result in less efficiency and rework. Productivity improvements profit everyone.Productivity is the measure of work done per unit of time or labor cost. The higher the productivity number, the more work is being done for the same amount of time or money. High productivity results in:
- Lower project costs
- Faster completion times
- More profitable projects
- More competitive bids
- Fewer construction claims due to inefficiency
All of this means a more competitive, revenue-generating company.
Common Productivity Issues
Whenever time is wasted productivity suffers. If your crew spends time waiting for equipment, materials, or even for the rain to stop, you are losing money. Not every event has the same amount of impact so if you can knock out a couple of the bigger problems you will have gone a long way in improving your bottom line.
Productivity is lost due to:
- Poor planning
- Change orders
- Any work that doesn’t move construction forward
As in project management, the main drivers of a project are the tasks on the critical path. For you, that means anything that moves construction to completion is a critical task. Anything else saps your productivity.
Analyze and Plan
Analyze every step of your project so you can schedule the right number of workers at the right time. Check and double-check manufacturing and delivery schedules for materials. While you can depend on prior experience and data from previous projects, each new job has its own set of variables:
- Labor conditions: union/open shop or skilled/unskilled
- Site access
- Experience and need for training
Once you have analyzed the project identify those areas most likely to impact productivity. Take into account the differences between the new project and a similar existing one. You can also use data from the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and contractors associations for baseline information.
Take a look around the worksite. Are there too many people in one space? Are workers waiting for tools or equipment because there aren’t enough? Is there a need for specialized gear or protective clothing? Are workers limited in the time they can spend in an area?
Better planning can mitigate crowding. Making more tools and more efficient equipment available can keep waiting to a minimum. (Crowding also creates the conditions for losing tools easily.) Plan extra time into the schedule for safety needs and known time constraints.
During each project you should be tracking metrics that can help you determine ways to improve efficiency. And here’s a big tip: ask your workers. They are the ones in the trenches doing the work every day. They will notice when things aren’t going as smoothly as they could. A few may have even found a better way to do the work. Have them share that with the rest of the team.
An untrained worker will never be as efficient as one who is trained. Training should be conducted whenever a new piece of equipment or a new tool is introduced to the site. Educate the whole crew about the materials to be used. New Haz-Mat gear? Train on usage.
Make note of each worker’s expertise and ask him about his comfort level at his job. Providing training helps your project and worker retention.
Upgrade Tools and Equipment
Tools and equipment are becoming “smarter” and more efficient. If yours are several years old or you can now afford better, start replacing with updated versions that work more efficiently and preserve more energy.
Today there is software available to simplify construction planning. The right application can even help you judge the probable impact of various productivity issues, allowing you to plan for them. It can certainly help keep things from falling through the cracks.
Productivity is everyone’s responsibility. Make sure the whole crew knows what is expected and that everyone is welcome to submit ideas to make things better. A reward system may help in this case. And make it clear that you want the work done, you aren’t looking for someone to blame for falling behind.
Construction companies must catch up to the tools of the 21st century in order to compete. There is less and less to differentiate you from your rivals; the answer is to do the job better and smarter. This leads to better bidding, a larger selection of projects, and a good reputation for your company.